In terms of public interest, the April 13 general election remains an average parliamentary poll, with few big issues grabbing the attention of the voters.
But there is at least one positive aspect, which should be maintained until voting day and beyond.
There are apparent signs that in the southeastern and southwestern regions, an increasing number of voters are abandoning their traditional blind allegiance — based on regional favoritism — to certain political parties.
As a result, the ruling Saenuri Party is losing ground in southeastern provinces — its traditional stronghold — and so is the main opposition party, The Minjoo Party of Korea, in the southwest.
This is a departure from what we have been used to. Candidates nominated by the conservative ruling party were usually guaranteed easy victories in southeastern constituencies. Likewise, those from the liberal party running in the southwest typically had an open road to the parliament.
This regionalism in Korean politics will not be shattered by a single election, but voters’ reactions to the campaigns for the upcoming general election indicate that there are at least some cracks forming in this long-held tradition.
Take for example the southeastern region, where the ruling party swept 63 of the 67 parliamentary seats that were up for grabs at the general election four years ago.
Preelection opinion polls predict that the results will be totally different this time. Saenuri candidates are trailing independents and opposition candidates or locked up in close battles in tens of constituencies.
The situation is most serious in Daegu, where the Saenuri party made a clean sweep of all the 12 seats at stake in 2012. Now opinion polls show that Saenuri candidates are likely to win no more than half of the 12 seats. It is ironic that it is none other than the party and President Park Geun-hye that have put themselves into such unprecedented trouble. Most of the independents that are leading over Saenuri candidates are those who had been purged from the party by Park and her party lieutenants.
It is clear that voters in the city are sending the message that Park did wrong when she ousted the former Saenuri members, replacing them with her associates. More importantly, they are saying that they will no longer vote for whoever is sent by Park and the party.
The Minjoo Party is encountering greater trouble in the southwest than Saenuri in the southeast.
Previously, the main opposition party — then called the Democratic United Party — had taken 25 of the 30 seats in the region, with the remaining five seats going to candidates who were in alliance with or friendly toward the party.
However, latest opinion polls show that the party is likely to be relegated to become the second party in the region. In Gwangju alone, People’s Party candidates are leading Minjoo candidates in seven of the eight constituencies.
The polls demonstrate that votes in the southwest region will also no longer just rubber stamp whoever that runs under Minjoo banners.
It is yet to be seen whether the current trend will be maintained until the voting day. Nevertheless, the latest developments tell us that we may at last find some cracks in deep-rooted regionalism. We need to widen them.